Preaching Peace

Ken Sikes Tacoma, Washington, U.S.

Missional Question

How can a group of urban pastors who are denominationally diverse help each other preach the Gospel lectionary text for peace and cultivate congregations who practice peace in the city?

Collective Action

Each week since 2013 pastors have gathered over a simple meal to reflect on the Gospel lectionary text to help them prepare to preach on Sunday. This weekly gathering has produced a wide variety of collateral programs initiated and managed by the pastors, including a public lecture series, retreats and a joint youth program. In recognition of the model, Lilly Endowment awarded $753,000 to share this model in up to 10 other cities.

"As a pastor newish to Tacoma, the Preaching Peace group has quickly become a vital community for me. The pastors who come to Preaching Peace are the kind of pastors (and people!) I want in my life – grounded, curious, supportive, hilarious, always asking challenging questions (of the text, of each other, of our congregations, of God), real, imperfect, fun. My work is more sustainable, life-giving and fruitful because of these colleagues."

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Rev. Jen Rude

University Pastor at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA

The Story

In 2013, a young pastor in Tacoma who was newly appointed to her aging church met with the director of Street Psalms and the Tacoma training hub. Towards the end of the conversation she humbly admitted that after six months of preaching, she felt she had run out of things to say from the pulpit. When asked if she used the lectionary she said yes.

The director of Street Psalms reached out to other pastors in the city who also preached from the lectionary and asked if they would be interested in meeting for a weekly discussion of the gospel lectionary text as a way to prepare for their sermons. Because Street Psalms helps urban leaders love their city and seek its peace, we attended to the Gospel passage each week with one a simple question. “How do we preach this text for peace?” The Preaching Peace group was born. .

Pastor Vitalis Okwach from Kibera with photos of Rwandan genocide victims.
Photo credit Gideon Ochieng

The Need

Too many pastors lack the support and collegial community they need to minister in an urban context, especially in vulnerable urban communities. Far too often energetic, gifted, and compassionate pastors are hobbled by overwhelming need, rivalry, resentment, and most dangerous of all, isolation. Nowhere is this more true than in the task of preparing weekly sermons.

The Response

The Preaching Peace initiative does three things:

  1. Sets a table where urban pastors can prepare their sermons within a diverse community.
  2. Cultivate a community of practice that offers peer learning, mentorship, coaching, and soul care.
  3. Provide urban pastors access to thought leaders and a global network to enliven their professional lives and their church community.

Keys to Success

We are still learning why the model works. Here are 10 things we have identified.

  1. Simplicity: The model is simple, highly contextual model and repeatable.
  2. Practical: It begins with a practical question that is tied to a real need.
  3. Asset Based: It recognizes that pastors have a wealth of wisdom to offer each other when given an opportunity and a community in which to share it.
  4. Meal: Each week pastors share a simple meal – sack lunch. The Eucharistic shape of this initiative keeps it rooted in the power of relationship and authentic community.
  5. Diverse: The variety of theological and denominational perspectives, and a specific focus on gender diversity enrich the discussion and deepen the community..
  6. Community of Practice: We use a peer learning model in which pastoral colleagues serve as role models, coaches and even mentors to one another, providing each other a vital relational web of support.
  7. Support Structure: It is supported by additional learning opportunities such as the lecture series/workshops with thought leaders, retreats and Vision Trips that target the needs of pastors and their congregations.
  8. Scalable and Sustainable: It is scalable through Street Psalms’ network of Training Hubs that are locally funded and self sustaining.
  9. Incarnational Framework: It is supported by Street Psalms’ Incarnational Framework, which is a diagnostic tool to help leaders examine themselves in light of the Incarnation. Our framework has been adopted by all of Street Psalms’ Training Hubs and partners
  10. Humor: It affirms lightness, levity, humility and humor in the face of difficult challenges

Ongoing Challenges

  1. Limits of Lectionary: While the lectionary provides an easy way to gather pastors around a common text, this has tended to limit the table to mainline denominations who use the lectionary.
  2. Neutral Convener: It’s not clear how helpful it is to have a neutral convener who is not themselves the pastor of a local church host the table.
  3. Expectations of Rollout: So much of what happened in Tacoma was organic. If we had told pastors initially of all the things the table would have accomplished it may have overwhelmed the participants who needed a place to gather without expectations of more work.
  4. Hermeneutic: Street Psalms has spent 20+ years learning how to read Scripture “from below” for peace. This perspective has been shared inductively over five years as “a perspective” on the text, not “the perspective.” However, unless the convener of the table is steeped in this perspective the table may lack this valuable resource.
  5. Incarnational Framework: While the Street Psalms Incarnational Framework informs all of the conversations that happen at the Preaching Peace table, most pastors have never directly engaged the Incarnational Framework. It places a lot of pressure on the convener to integrate these perspectives into the conversation.

Incarnational Movements

Street Psalms engages a global network, embracing a broad range of missional work. Across contexts, there are four movements that we recognize as important shifts in the life of an incarnational community: from Scarcity to Abundance, from Theory to Practice, from Rivalry to Peacemaking, and from Fear to Freedom.

From Scarcity to Abundance

Abundance requires us to believe that there is enough. We see the city as a sacred place for all people, filled with the resources necessary for lasting peace.

The Preaching Peace initiative was born out of the generosity of pastors who were willing to reflect together across denominational lines and risk sharing limited resources. The challenge is for pastors to continue to create that same space for others.

From Rivalry to Peacemaking

Peacemaking requires a posture of engagement in which enemies are seen as friends who are necessary for Shalom.

The Preaching Peace Initiative is clearly focused on peacemaking both from the pulpit as well as equipping congregations to love their city and seek its peace. This remains a major strength of the table. But rivalry easily creeps into a table of pastors for whom “prestige” is the main object of rivalry. Continued awareness of how we participate in the scapegoating mechanism is vital to ongoing peacemaking.

From Theory to Practice

Emphasizing action means working in the real world of relationships, where vulnerability, risk, and failure are part of becoming fully human.

The growing edge of the Preaching Peace Initiative is its commitment to cultivating congregations that “practice” peace. Weekly conversations about how to preach the text for peace could easily prioritize ideas and theory over embodied practice.

From Fear to Freedom

Being formed by the message, method and manner of Jesus’ mission frees the messenger to love their city into greatness. Leaders who undergo the Incarnation are set free to do things they once thought impossible.

Perhaps the greatest unintended impact of the initiative is the way pastors are freeing each other up through mutual coaching, mentoring and community. There is discernible growth in this area.